Failure to connect

Social networking websites are a convenience but not a replacement for real world contact says Gareth Van Zyl…

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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  November 18, 2008

Around Christmas Eve 2007, a website called Classmates.com contacted Anthony Michaels and told him that his old school friends were trying to contact him. Upon hearing this Anthony decided to pay for a ‘Gold Premium’ membership on the site, which would put him in contact with his old school buddies.

However, after Anthony paid US $15 for the membership, he was surprised to find that no one he knew was actually trying to contact him. That's what the San Diego resident alleged in a lawsuit filed against one of the web's first social networking sites.

Here is where I pose a few questions. Firstly, why would one be concerned about whether or not old school buddies want to make contact with one or not? And why would one pay to make contact with these school friends when there are several free services such as Facebook that can potentially put one in touch with old friends?

Many people today have some form of digital presence, whether it is on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or even a blog. Surely it is easier to stumble upon old mates using the above-mentioned free services?

Furthermore, if people’s old school friends have no interest in contacting them in the real world, most people wouldn’t over-react to the extent of filing a lawsuit. At least I wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, social networking is a fantastic communication tool. Many social networking sites have brought people together who have lost touch in the real world or who have been separated by migration to various towns, cities or countries.

But there is a schism between the real world and the digital world. Body language has been replaced by smiley faces; screaming has been replaced by large caps. Sure, technology makes our lives easier, but when it comes to communicating with others, what has happened to giving somebody a phone call or paying them a visit every once in a while?

Also, the concept of ‘social networking’ has to a large extent been undermined by some peoples’ need to be wanted, accepted and showcased. Social networking sites have become an extension of many people’s egos.

People have to realise that social networking sites are merely tools that can help put people in touch in the physical realm and that it is not the most ideal way to maintain human relationships with each other. Until this happens there will increasingly be those out there who will capitalise on unsuspecting victims who think that people are dying to connect with them online.

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